Stop Eating Meat, Cape Town!

The City of Cape Town has tightened water restrictions again after an announcement that usable water levels in dams were only at 11.2%. They pleaded with the public to use only 100 litres a day. Well, this is all well and good, but how about curbing the water usage of the biggest culprits? And I'm not talking about big businesses who leave their sprinklers on all day or households who have swimming pools...

Here's looking at you, factory farms, meat farms, abattoirs! And, yes, I know that curbing their water usage has major economic setbacks, such as being unable to pay workers, meeting consumer demand, and so on. But we can use our lifestyles to change that.

On average, a single poultry abattoir deals with around 18,000 chickens a day to meet consumer demand. Processing a single bird uses around 17 litres, so that's already 306,000 litres used per day. Over 2 million litres a week. There are several poultry abattoirs in Cape Town and the Western Cape. Let's say there are 10: That's at least 20 million litres being used a week to process chickens. Just chickens. And you're being asked to use only 100 litres a day? Update 24 May 2017: It was pointed out to me by a commentator below (whom I only know as 'Anonymous' - thank you for fact-checking!) that I incorrectly stated 18,000 chickens per day as per the article I linked to, which actually stated 8,000 chickens. I apologise for this link error. Using this abattoir as an example, it would still mean, however, that 136,000 litres would be used per day - 952,000 litres per week - 9,520 million litres for an assumed amount of 10 poultry abattoirs. To me, this is still a lot of water being used when you're asked to use only 100 litres per day. Regardless of this, Selectra claims that a medium-sized poultry abattoir would process 20,000 birds per day. This is more than my original calculation anyway.

Add to this that, in essence, this water is sometimes returned to natural streams, within certain healthy and acceptable 'parameters', which are probably not met all the time, as many abattoirs struggle to maintain proper bacterial balance in their sludge dams - this is why they are sometimes red: it's not blood but algal bloom, and if this is released into natural streams... ruination of ecological system. Mostly, however, wastewater is dealt with in municipal sewer systems. And don't even get me started on the physical waste products, such as intestines, bones, and blood - where does all that go?

Perhaps it is time we took a more responsible outlook on drought over and above showering for only five minutes, making use of grey water, or only flushing once our toilets are good and dirty. What if we changed our lifestyles and stopped eating meat?

"Oh, but what about my protein needs?!" you ask.

"Okay, fine", you say, "but what about my calcium requirements?!"

Then you'll say, "Okay, smarty pants. What about my Omega oils intake?" To which I will say that it's likely you're deficient in them anyway and ...

"Erm, well I also need iron. Can't possibly get iron from anywhere else but meat!" Really?

"And Vitamin B12!?"

I detect a certain panic in your voice as you squeak, "...and zinc?!"

Do you really still want to tell me there is no other place to get everything you need to survive but meat?

"Oh, but I do take part in Meat Free Mondays! That's something, right?" Sure, it's something. But you have to ask yourself if it's enough.

Thank you so much to everyone who commented! I have also added some more related links below about water usage comparisons, since we are talking specifically about water.

Related Reading:

10 Vegan Cheat Sheets
From Lettuce to Beef: What's the Water Footprint of Your Food
The Water Footprint of Food
Waterwise: Your Water Footprint
And if there's one film you watch this weekend, please let it be this one!!!! Earthlings

{Lead image credit: By AerialcamSA - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link}


  1. Interesting article! Can we compare the water usage, transporting and cooling costs for the veg and nuts to local meat? I assume we can't grow it all locally like meat so transporting and cooling costs will rise. That being said, local "battery" chicken is cheap, the majority of people can't afford the above diet. Thoughts on cost? Thanks!

    1. @Author Thanks for the daily dose of misinformation, did you even bother to read the article that you linked to? around 18 000 chickens a day ( It clearly states in that article that you linked that they process 8000 chickens per day not 18 000, and also further down on the page is the following:

      "8000 Chickens X 17 litres of water = 136,000 litres per day of pink, fatty water into the primary pond. This equals to 952,000 litres a week and 3,808,000 litres of water a month, that have to be returned to a natural stream, within acceptable legislated parameters."

      This shows that the whole point of your article is moot and without foundation, you are just trying to promote your own agenda. This comment will probably be removed because you do not want people knowing the truth. What a shame.

    2. Ah, you self-proclaimed superhero, next time please title your article "Stop drinking water, Cape Town!". The world is kak, your 1e-290% change to this planet is not going to change that. Hopefully never stumbling upon this again.

  2. Definitely interested in how the above mentioned water usage compares to that of growing vegetables.

  3. Jy praat sommer kak en het geen idee waarvan jy praat nie. Weet jy hoeveel water word gebruik om slaai blare te verbou?? Nee jyt geen idee nie. Wel kom ek se jou baie meer as wat 1 hoender kan gebruik in n leeftyd.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Instead of the cow eating the grass out on the Prairie, you know the cycle. Let's start increasing the acreage and yields for the requied crops of specialty foods by irrigating with this sacred water ???

  5. Hier is soveel rekenkundige foute en verskeie foutiewe aannames, dat ek my kop in ongeloof skud.Kom ek noem net een, geen hoender drink 17l water per dag nie. 'n Braaikuiken drink beswaarlik 17l oor sy hele leeftyd. Maar hoekom 'n opruiende argument met feite bederf.

    1. Nie dat ek saam met die persoon stem nie, maar sy/hy bedoel om een hoender te verwerk b.v slag, was en deer al die elemente gaan om die hoender op die rak te 17 liter per hoender, of die persoon reg is of nie weet ek nou nie maar dis nie wat die hoender sal drink nie

  6. Are you serious? Have you ever calculated the amount of water needed to just water crops, and then have you taken into consideration the amount of water needed for all the other processing involved? Have you ever thought about this logically and figured, shit, it's actually impossible for one animal to consume that much water per day.

    Either way, wether watering crops or using water to sustain livestock, farmers don't use municipal water. Do you think all those dams, water pumps, boreholes, etc. in their farms is just there for decoration? It's there to save them money in the long run. Why pay 1000s of rands per month for municipal water when you can just supply it yourself. Your argument is completely invalid and inaccurate. Please get your facts straight.

    Oh and humans falls under animals classified as omnivores, which means plant AND meat eaters. Ever wondered why we have canines and inscisors and not just molars? To allow tearing and shredding of meat. Our body needs crude animal protein to supply it with the necessary amino acids that can't be synthesised by our bodies or be supplied by plants. Yes, we do need plants for many required nutrients, but in addition to meat.

  7. If your best argument is that plants require water, do you know how many plants are being fed to the animals being murdered?

    Please think about what you're doing rather than just react with misinformation because your views are being challenged.

    There is no possible world where being a necrovore is healthier for you or better for the environment than veganism. Not to mention the cruelty, which you are keen to get triggered about when it's a dog in China or a zoo animal in the USA, but exists many times over for ALL animals on factory farms.

  8. Cool, anonymous- a tiny bit of info to you- 1 acre of land can produce/sustain 113,398kg of beef, but 40-50 000kg of tomatoes or potatoes - the water footprint is much smaller than producing meat- and please take into consideration the water used to feed the animal before slaughter and production-

    1. 30% of available land worldwide is used for animal production- 50% of grain grown are fed to factory farmed animals- enough to curb world hunger and 71% of our fresh water is used to feed and farm these animals- where you can feed only a few on beef, laden with routine antibiotics and hormones, but millions with plant based food. 1 hamburger patty of 150gr takes the same amount of water you can shower with for 2 months- make the maths- get with the program

  9. Ag fok Sandra, lees bietjie mooi wat daar staan. Sewentien liter in "processing", nie wat die arme hoender drink nie.

    Daar is geen rede om die vlees van vermoorde diere te verorber net omdat die "lekker" is nie. Die diere gaan onmeetbare leiding deur. Vleis is ongesond. Dit maak jou siek. Dit verstop jou are. Dis vol allerhande anti-biotiak en hormone wat jou nog sieker maak. Dis so paar van die feite.

    Doen bietjie navorsing oor feite. Jy sal verbaas wees dat daar geen wetenskap is wat jou idees bevestig nie. Net omdat jy grootgeword het met vleis beteken dit nie dat dit "reg" is.

    Jy het die vryheid om anders te begin dink oor die welsyn van diere, die mite dat jy vleis nodig het en die impak wat hierdie moordbedryf op die omgewing het.

    1. Laat ek jou net daar stop - hormone? Jy besef die vinnige groei wat ons in die pluimvee sien is pure genetika, geen hormone kom in hoendervleis voor nie.
      Wanneer enige antibiotika of growth promoters gebruik word in beeste, is daar streng wetgewing oor onttrekkingsperiode.
      Vleis van 'n geimplanteerde os is 1.6ng/oz, terwyl 'n koolkop 2700ng/oz estrogeen in het. 'N pre-puberteit seuntjie produseer 41000ng estrogeen daagliks. Nou se my hou weer hoe die hormone so sleg is vir ons?
      BST is spesies-spesifiek en nie oraal aktief nie - dit kan letterlik niks aan mense doen nie, al was dit in significant hoeveelhede (sonder onttrekking) in vleis.
      So wie moet nou bietjie navorsing doen. Net oor dit op Google staan, maak dit nie alles waar nie - probeer bietjie geakkrediteerde wetenskaplike artikels dan praat ons weer

    2. Ou wat nie dapper genoeg is om jou naam te noem nie, gaan doen die som, 18000x 17 = 306000. Dis die hoeveelheid water wat per dag deur die skrywer aan die hoenders toegeskryf word.Of sukkel jy net so met somme as wat jy met vloektaal sukkel?

  10. Awesome article Roane!

    We are currently running a campaign called #MeatLessMay. The campaign aims to encourage people to reduce their water (over)consumption in order to raise awareness of the unsustainability of the meat industry. On our website (, we quantify the volume of water "saved" based on the date the participant signs up and the diet change of the participant. I.e. If a pescetarian (water-footprint of 2940 L/day) pledges to be a vegan (water-footprint of 1700 L/day) then he/she will effectively save 1240 L per day. So far 4 500 000 L have been "saved".

    Anyone wanting to find out more / enlighten me as to how "stupid" our argument is - ✌️

  11. Anonymous- you really need to get your facts straight- you can get all 9 amino acids the body needs from plants and you'll live a healthy and long guilt free life. If tou look at the human's built and structure- our alkaline and not avidic digestive juices, the length of the intestines and the fact that we do not have claws- even the way our jaws move- you need to rethink the idea that we were meant to digest meat..... l believe it is time for you to do a bit more research anonymousl- the world was also believed to be flat at one stage....Louise- get your head out of your backside- chickens are fed growth hormones even with genetic manipulation- not only is it bad for your health- including the chemical water injected in the meat- but it is one of the cruelest industries in the world- chickens are intelligent sentient beings- there is no need to eat them- you will have a much healthier life without meat on your plate- you don't need Google to look up that fact- all you need is kindness and compassion in your heart- Google nor any book or fact can unfortunately teach you that..... ������

  12. People should not forget, when talking about water consumption within the meat industry, we should take into account water wastage for cleaning ect, buy also feed.

    The amount of calories we pump into meat deliver far less calories than the end product amount of protein does. (see link at bottom.)

    Considering a person reduces 2/3's of their water footprint by simply not eating meat, this would make a great difference. It will also limit overproduction of foods (according to the UN, about 60% of the calories we produce end up wasted e.g. spoilt food, overconsumption) which in turn will reduce exploitation of resources. Obviously there are socio-economic considerations (the poor relying on meat as their main caloric supply); however, if those who can make the switch do so, environmental sensitivity within the meat industry can be greatly improved.

    ^^also interesting article that mentions Sub-Saharan Africa needing 10x as much feed (and subsequently a much larger multiplication of water) to produce 1kg of meat.

  13. Or just get meat supplied from somewhere else that doesn't have a water crisis ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    1. No. I'd rather not contribute to unnecessary killing, bro.

  14. Please note that no matter how much animals are grown for food. We seem more interested in saving our gardens and filling our pools. Please dont point fingers away from whom uses the most water. It is the residents who use astronomical amounts of water. We have wasteful habits and blaming an industry is poor. Blame ourselves for this wastage. Blame the city for poor management and not ramping up the level 4 sooner. look at how Knysna handled their drought.

  15. Cobblers! Cabbages need water also, Let stop eating greens. Effing hippies!


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